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Form-based considerations inform West Campus variance case

Friday, March 17, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

In the haze of CodeNEXT fever, the form-based language of building types and footprints continues to creep into discussions of land use, and those considerations found their way into the Board of Adjustment’s meeting Monday night.

For its final item, the board heard applicant Sudhakar Allada’s parking variance request for a small-lot multifamily apartment project at 911 W. 22nd St., within the University Neighborhood Overlay district. Allada argued that the small size of the lot qualified as a unique hardship, inhibiting construction of a parking garage that could accommodate the 20-unit, 62-bedroom complex, with 10 percent affordable housing.

“Most of the lots in UNO are not this small,” he said at the meeting. Allada wants the number of required parking spaces to be dropped from 21 to eight. He said that he has a memorandum of understanding with the owner of nearby 1909 San Gabriel Street to supply additional parking to supplement his project.

Mary Ingle spoke on behalf of the Central Austin Neighborhood Plan Advisory Committee, which had voted unanimously in opposition to the request. She said that the project was just too big and that additional parking could impact the nearby single family homes.

“We feel like it’s maxed out its footprint for building,” she said. “This is not the right size lot for this project.”

Contradicting Ingle, Board Member Eric Goff said that with the variance, the project would be in character with West Campus and contribute to the creation of a “fine-grain city.”

“Those small (UNO) lots can each be their own thing without taking up a huge block area, which would harm the nature of this neighborhood,” he said.

As for the variance request, Goff cited a survey of nearby parking garages conducted in preparation for a nearby co-op apartment project and found the garages all to be under capacity. “(This area) has too many parking spaces,” he said.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne, on the other hand, did not think the co-op was a fair comparison. She posited that the project in question could trigger a domino effect of high-density encroaching on already besieged West Campus homeowners. To prevent such a cascade from happening, she suggested that the ordinance may need to be amended, perhaps as part of CodeNEXT.

“If you can actually find the parking requirements in (the) CodeNEXT (draft),” she joked. “They’re all divided up in 1,900 sections, and there isn’t an actual (section) where you can just go look at parking.”

Minimized parking is part of UNO’s unique physical form, Board Member Rahm McDaniel said, and its walkability derives from those parameters. “UNO is not Allandale. Most of the people who live in that district walk as their primary means of running short errands,” he said. “Reduction in parking is part of what makes that possible.”

The CodeNEXT draft, in its current form, seeks to replicate UNO’s walkability and neighborhood cohesion in other urban sections of the city with transect zoning, although that zoning will not apply to suburban or rural parts of the city.

Goff made a motion to postpone to the April 10 meeting to allow Allada time to provide more details on which bedrooms would be affordable as well as confirmation that the parking at 1909 San Gabriel would be available. McDaniel seconded. The motion passed 11-1, with Board Member Bryan King dissenting.

This story has been corrected. We originally reported that Mary Ingle said the project was out-of-character for the neighborhood, which was a mischaracterization of her position.

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